Presidential Pony Show

Article excerpt

Byline: Fareed Zakaria

Obama needs to lead, not emote.

I agree with virtually everyone out there who's complaining on camera and in print that our response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been just terrible. Except that by "our" I don't mean the government's or the country's but ours--the media's. Reporting on a massive technological breakdown that is having huge environmental consequences, our focus over the last week has been on whether the president is offering enough public displays of emotion?

This demand for a show of presidential fury is not coming from a few obscure people. New York Times columnists want to see Obama angry; the filmmaker Spike Lee is demanding that the president "go off"; Democratic strategist James Carville wants "rage." Whole cable shows have been devoted to the question. One Fox anchorwoman complained about what Obama was wearing when he visited the Gulf Coast. Reflecting the media frenzy, the Today show's Matt Lauer informed the president that his critics were saying, "This is not the time to meet with experts and advisers, this is the time to--kick some butt."

Have we gone mad? We face monumental engineering challenges: to plug a hole in the deep sea, separate oil from water, clean up the coastline, and restore the gulf. But let's forget about talking to experts and seeking technical solutions. That's for nerds. Let's put on battle fatigues and kick some butt. Commentators have been begging for some symbol of Obama's resolve, as when George W. Bush stood at the World Trade Center site after 9/11 and promised revenge for the attacks. If the president were to invade another country, would that show he cared?

The fact is that the federal government has a limited capacity to "plug the damn hole," as Obama reportedly said in his best effort to muster up some anger. When Adm. Thad Allen was urged at a press conference to push BP, the oil company responsible for the spill, out of the way, he responded with a question: "[And] replace them with what?...To work down there you need remotely operated vehicles; you need to do very technical work at 5,000 feet. You need equipment and expertise that's not generally within the--federal government in terms of competency, capability, or capacity."

The government can help protect and clean the coastline and coastal waters. …